You will feel sick reading this book. It will make you frustrated, melancholy, curious. I suffered nightmares and stomach aches.

Renting it from the library gave me only 21 days to cover the extensive 509 pages, which meant I was reading this book every moment I had free. The details surrounding the incident (how victims were killed, bodies left behind by the police, a teacher left for dead) left me feeling nauseous and appalled. Reading words from the killer themselves brought them back to life. Columbine by Dave Cullen is an enlightening, yet, stomach churning examination of the events leading up to, during, and following the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999.

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Dora rates this book “one paw.”

After the success of their first murder investigation, Charlotte’s Angels are back in Buy A Whisker, book two in the Second Chance Cat Mystery series by Sofie Ryan. The senior ladies: Charlotte, Liz, and Rose, (and their friend Alfred, an old timer hacker) are ready to expose the truth with their investigation services operation –headquartered in the Second Chance shop, of course.

The Second Chance shop, owned and operated by North Harbour, Maine resident Sarah Grayson, features repurposed goods. The unique shop attracts many tour bus customers, but Sarah knows business could be better. With the prospect of a new development in the works, the tourist town is overjoyed by the possibilities of bringing in new customers and updating it’s image. Everything is in place for the development to go through except for one business owner’s approval.

Local bakery owner Lily Carter refuses to sell her property, inherited from her grandfather. She declined the developer’s offer, which has resulted in outrage from the town in the form of petty pranks, threats, and pleas for her to change her mind and accept the deal. When Lily is found dead on the basement stairs of her bakery, it isn’t surprising that the police think there has been a homicide.

The suspect list is long: it could have been any shop owner depending on the development or money they would receive from selling their property. Is it possible it was the developer himself? Or maybe a newcomer? When one of the Angels, Liz, is moved to the top of the suspect list, the Angels set out to find the real killer. Sarah is depending on Elvis, her feline with lie-detecting abilities, to help her solve the mystery before her friends put themselves in danger.

Overall, this installment was much better than the first in the series. I am in love with Elvis and have finally warmed up to Sarah and her Second Chance crew. Elvis’s personality reminds me so much of my own all-black feline, Dora. While Sarah finds herself arguing with Elvis over her seat, I find myself having the same arguments with Dora. Finally, I give in and share the seat with him.

There is not much of Sarah’s grandmother, Isabel, in the story, even though all the ladies that work with her are her Grandmother’s friends and Isabel supposedly lives the on the upper floor of her house. Maybe that’s the gag? We do learn more about the other ladies: Charlotte, Liz, and  Rose, who reminds me of Betty White.

I’m still not sure about some of the minor characters. There are brief moments where the dialogue goes from cozy to cheesy and I have to put the book down, close my eyes and let out a deep breath, particularly around Sarah’s friendship with her teenage crush, Nick. I’ve never accidentally fallen into the arms of a male friend and if I did, I probably wouldn’t stare into his eyes. As for her work companion Mac, I would prefer to read a little less about his muscles and more about his mysterious past.

I bought this copy at my local library’s book sale, but am delighted to see the rest of the series is available on my library’s OverDrive app.

Cost: Approximately $0.05

Drink of Choice: Flat White with Soy

Even though you know that it’s her destiny to make the trip to California, your heart aches knowing that she has to make this journey. It yells out to her, “No! Don’t do it, Eliza. Think of your future!” but you know she must go and there is nothing you can do to stop her. So you prepare yourself for a tear jerker — the story of a Chilean girl who follows her lover to California during the peak of the Gold Rush.

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Fleece Navidad is a Christmas-themed, Knitting Mystery cozy that I picked up at a book sale a few months ago. Set in a Colorado college town, the main character, Kelly, is determined to prove that newcomer Claudia is not a murdering gold-digger, and certainly didn’t kill her romantic rival.

The knitting crew at Lambspun have an addition when newcomer Claudia joins the group. Widowed three times due to accidents, Claudia decided it was time to make a fresh start by leaving behind her life in Florida. A flirtatious and friendly older woman, Claudia quickly joins clubs at the Senior Center in addition to the Lambspun knitters. Her incredulous background makes some of the knitters suspicious that maybe Claudia is a gold-digger after her next victim.

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Let’s travel to the English countryside for a weekend away, spent in a private, isolated glass cottage in the woods. The floor to ceiling windows capture the natural enclosure of the backwoods. No cell reception means no interruptions. Sounds lovely, right?

Now let’s add the burden of attending a bachelorette party with a bunch of strangers for your estranged high school best friend. The one you haven’t spoken to in nearly 10 years — after an awkward falling out. You’ve been invited to the party, but you’re not quite sure why, since you haven’t even been invited to the wedding. And why would you be? You two haven’t been friends for a long time. She has a new best friend now. Not so lovely anymore.

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Did a black cat ever cross your path? If it did, it’s probably just looking for some petting or food, and most certainly is not interested in causing you misfortune.

With the superstition that a black cat crossing your path will bring bad luck still prominent, I try to educate people that fur is just a color and that black cats can be some of the sweetest feline companions. This is a subject close to my heart, so it was with great enthusiasm that I purchased my latest read, Black Cat Crossing, A Bad Luck Cat Mystery by Kay Finch. I would like to highlight this story because I feel it is an important one to tell. It isn’t just another cozy mystery with a kitty sleuth pal. There is a message of loving and adopting black cats.

This time of the year, when the sun sets earlier, is when I like to keep the fur babies inside. I also like to keep my cats indoors on every Friday the 13th, just for safe keeping. People can get some crazy ideas and may even try to harm the cats out of fear. This is something the main character, Sabrina, experiences first hand when she finds the neighbors in Lavender, Texas referring to a feral black cat as El Gato Diablo. 

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Mrs. Cook has seen many generations of the Jones family grow up. She has watched over them and become a part of the Jones family herself. These days she walks a little slower. After an unfortunate incident with one of the Tower ravens, Mrs. Cook has taken to staying indoors. Her age of 180 is impressive and catches the attention of the Queen, which sets in motion the whole story. Mrs. Cook is also a tortoise and the story is the The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart.

Set in contemporary London, The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise is an exploration of the London Tower and one maudlin man, Balthazar Jones, whose duties are about to change dramatically. He is a member of the elite Beefeaters. Officially titled the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, the Beefeaters are a tourist attraction that once guarded the Tower of London. The Queen has decided to open a new royal menagerie at the London Tower to display the exotic animals given to her as gifts by leaders of foreign nations. Balthazar’s ability to keep the elderly tortoise Mrs. Cook alive has convinced the Queen that he is the ideal zookeeper.

There are two aspects of this novel that I loved: the conflicting personalities of the Tower’s residents and the delightful personalities of the animals. Balthazar is lovable in his inability to focus on pick pockets and other threats to the Tower. He is constantly distracted by the rain and his own thoughts. Every failure made me want to reach out and hug the poor guy. His Greek wife, Hebe, works at the London Underground Lost Property Office. Hebe is not interested in the rain, she is interested in the mystery behind each item turned in: books, wigs, an urn. Who would leave these things on the tube? She is delighted whenever a lost item is reunited with its worrisome owner. Her co-worker, Valerie, is lonely and consequently, obsessed with the mid-morning snack of elevenses.

The Tower would not be complete with it’s religious figure. The Chaplin is a man of the cloth, but his duties are confusing to the residents of the Tower, who often turn to him for confession. He can only reply, you might want to see the Catholics up the road. The lonely Chaplin yearns for love and a family, but he is also a failure. He finds relief and refuge in writing sermons and novels of all genres.

Then there is the Ravenmaster. He is jealous of the menagerie distracting visitors from the famous ravens he looks after. His awkward relationship with Balthazar resulting from the attack of Mrs. Cook, fuels his desire to see the menagerie a failure.

The animals were unfamiliar, so I spent some time researching creatures like the zorillas. Silly to admit, but I wanted to confirm that the animals mentioned were real and not fictional. Their personalities made me laugh and I think the residents learned a valuable lesson about handling exotic animals.

When I first read the word “Beefeaters,” I had no reference to what this could mean. I hadn’t heard of the Tower of London and I was unfamiliar with its history. Luckily, the author explained all I needed to know. I felt like I was getting a history lesson in British landmarks, specifically the Tower, the ghosts inhabiting it, and the surrounding river. The spirits are mischievous and have their own agendas, much like the ghosts in the Harry Potter series. I was getting an exclusive look into the castle and the London Underground Lost Property Office. Do these stories have some truth to them or not?

This is the second novel I’ve read by Julia Stuart and I absolutely loved it. I did have some difficulty understanding the slang and had to look up phrases like “elevenses,” which aren’t as common here in the states. I thoroughly enjoyed this book almost as much as her previous novel, The Pigeon Pie Mystery. These two novels make the perfect Anglophile starter kit.